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  • Writer's pictureJosey Goggin

From Dissent to Opposition

Updated: May 22, 2020

This week we saw the attorney general throwing the weight of the Department of Justice behind the current president’s Friends and Enemies model of governance. Twelve hours after the prosecutors in the Roger Stone case submitted their twenty-five page sentencing memorandum the attorney general issued a four page revision, withdrawing the initial memo and recommending a “lighter than normal” sentence.

This outrageous attack on the rule of law, on the impartial justice that sits at the foundation of our democracy, was initially lost in the coverage of a minor state’s Democratic primary.

That really scared me.

Without our institutions, without our impartial justice, without checks on the president, those primaries won’t mean anything. It is hard, with all the noise this administration generates to keep our eye on the ball.

But we must. Or it is all lost.

Luckily the media corrected course the next day and began to examine the story, the resignations of the four prosecutors, William Barr’s damage control interview.[1] We started to hear from experts on the DOJ, on the normal separation and clear guidelines of interactions between the White House and the DOJ that have been shredded, and on the foundation of trust that our laws will be applied with impartiality. We began to hear experts on authoritarianism raising an alarm.

What we did not see is outrage in the streets.

There was no swarming to the airports like when the Muslim Ban was initially ordered, no marching in the streets like when the global gag rule was implemented, no mass petitions, or mobilization like when James Comey was fired.

Why not? Because we are tired? Because there have been so many battles already? Because we have spent three years outraged and we have none left? Or is it because we are beginning to see the other side of Trump’s lesson learned by being impeached, but acquitted?

The Republicans’ disingenuous statements that he would come out of the episode contrite and repentant didn’t hold up for a week. Trump is flexing his muscles and exercising his power freely, firing Colonel Vindeman and his brother, recalling big donor Gordon Sondland, forcing out Marie Yovanovich. The time for vengeance on his enemies and favors for his friends has arrived.

We see lives and careers ruined right in front of us. We recognize that a Friends and Enemies model of justice, instead of impartiality, is seeping into our culture.

And that is a very scary prospect.

At the same time the depth of manipulation and privacy loss inherent in one of our recent forms of mobilization and information sharing, social media, is standing bald-faced and unrepentant in front of us, unwilling to change tactics and lose potential revenue.

And yet how do we mobilize if we don’t have Facebook to remind us there is a protest on Saturday? How do we communicate without endangering our freedom without making ourselves into targets for those intent on undermining our democracy?

We look to Hong Kong. We look to the students who have been operating under a surveillance state we have up until now escaped, but are sensing the potential for, and we find inspiration there. The pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong utilize two alternative forms of communicating[2]. One, technology based but private and encrypted, for use coordinating protests. The other is a system of hand signals amplified by repetition in the crowd to use on the ground during protests.

For us, in this moment, the first method is where I want to focus.

Telegram is a free app that offers encrypted, secret chats which can have up to 200,000 members. In Hong Kong, the group chats have allowed a free flowing, decentralized movement to exchange ideas, organize protests, and coordinate responses on the ground. This dynamic flow of information allowed for fast responses to government actions and highly creative and surprising actions, like when they shifted an action to a day of eating a symbolic cake to avoid a confrontation.

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, which share and sell our data and locations widely, Telegram actively works to protect its users' privacy, and therefore their right to assemble and dissent. Last night on Rachel Maddow’s show Timothy Snyder, Yale historian and author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century reminded her: “When a lot of people dissent, it is no longer dissent. It is opposition.”

It is time to dump Facebook and Twitter[3]. It is time to download Telegram[4].

It is time for dissent to become opposition.


[1] Though unlike a lot of the pundits who viewed Barr's statement as a brush back of Trump, I tend toward a more cynical view, and believe it’s a calculated move to remind the president that if he calls attention to Barr’s actions on Twitter, it makes it a smidge harder for him to carry them out.

[2] NVA #180. Alternative communication system

[3] NVA # 69. Collective disappearance, NVA #188. Dumping, NVA #71. Consumers’ boycott, NVA# 72. Nonconsumption of boycotted goods

[4] NVA #179. Alternative social institutions, 174. Establishing new social patterns

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